Voltaire recently opened in the old R Bar space in the West Bottoms. Owned by Wes Gartner and Jill Myers of Moxie Catering, the couple serves up dinner and Happy Hour Wednesday-Saturday, and utilize the kitchen for their catering business the rest of the week. Though the old stage up front was transformed into a comfortable seating area, they left the rest of the restaurant intact, fortunately leaving the gorgeous bar as it was. Both times I’ve been there, the place was hopping with mostly under 30s.P1010707P1010698

The menu consists of innovative and delicious dishes, some small, others not so. On my first visit, the server suggested 2-4 dishes per couple; the second time I dined there it became clear that the number greatly depends on what dish you order. The plates get bigger as you move down the menu, so if you get one of the dishes at the bottom featuring meat, chicken or fish, you probably only need a salad or one of the more appetizer type dishes to complete your meal. If you stick to the top half of the menu, you’ll need to order more to make a complete meal.Vietnamese wings--VoltaireBibb lettuce salad--Voltaire

A new menu is printed up every week, with many new items added depending on what’s fresh. I tried most of the dishes on the spring menu, and was excited by what I ate.

Vietnamese chicken wings are roasted and served with nuoc cham and chile sauce to mix together to make a dipping sauce. Cool cucumbers on the side are an ideal foil for the spice.Roasted Cauliflower with snake beans--Voltaire

The roasted cauliflower with tempura snake beans, pigeon peas (which taste like a cross between lentils and red beans) with nam prik num sauce is one of the most complex and flavorful vegetarian dishes I’ve experienced in town. (I wish young Sulzberger from the New York Times was still here to enjoy it.) I will order it as long as it stays on the menu.

The Anaheim chile is charred and sits atop a gazpacho sauce. It’s sprinkled with fried anchovies, and while they may not be my favorite taste, the anchovies do transform a simple dish into something quite addictive. Beet and arugula salad with a fried egg and blue cheese crostini was lovely, but was the only dish that was less than flawless, and only because it was overdressed.Mussels--VoltaireArugula and beets--Voltaire

P.E.I Mussels with fennel, leek, pernod and thyme were piled high in a bowl, with grilled bread for dunking. The colors and flavors in the beautifully presented Bibb salad made it vastly different than most “house” salads, especially since it was dressed with good old-fashioned Green Goddess dressing.Spring Risotto--Voltaire

The risotto wasn’t my favorite, but others at the table really enjoyed it. The base was mushroom and was a bit bland, though the asparagus, pea sprouts and pistachios swirled into it made up for that lapse. A beet risotto that’s currently on the menu is getting raves.

Tri-tip Beef with chimmichurri and roasted poblano rajas brings a bit of Argentina to the menu, and the strips of salmon on a stick sitting on a bed of bok choy with sake-yuzu beurre blanc takes diners to Asia. Looking to India for inspiration, the chef devised the current lamb chop dish. Coriander crusted, the two chops sit atop a saffron-potato pancake and tikka masala salsa, and are topped off with mint raita.Salmon with bok choy--VoltaireTri-tip with chimmichurri--Voltairelamb chops--Voltaire

If pork tacos are on the menu, they are worth ordering. They come on baby corn tortillas, dressed with grilled pineapple and a mild but tasty tomatillo salsa.P1010769

Since much of the fare may be a bit unfamiliar to some diners, it’s fortunate that the servers are knowledgeable and genuinely excited about the menu. And those who enjoy sipping a good cocktail will be happy to hear that Ryan Miller, former barman at the Boot in Westport, is working his magic behind the bar at Voltaire.Voltaire

Voltaire’s hip vibe and ambiance, sophisticated but unfussy fare, and creative cocktail list make this new hot spot a really fun place to hang out. And for those of us who have passed the half-century mark, I promise that just being there will make you feel younger.

Voltaire on Urbanspoon

Webster House

Webster House’s second floor restaurant is not new.  But its visibility has certainly increased since next-door neighbor, the Kauffman Performing Arts Center, opened in the fall of 2011.  Originally open only for lunch and Happy Hour, the restaurant now also serves dinner Wednesday-Saturday, brunch on Sunday, and the occasional late night for performance-goers.Red room--Webster House

Chef Matt Arnold has the kitchen humming at all hours, and I’ve recently enjoyed some great brunches and lunches there. It’s such a beautiful restaurant, and really an ideal place to take out-of-towners. Each dining room is different: the red room is the most formal, if you’re in the kitchen you can watch your meal being made and, if you sit in the library, you can belly up to the bar. Webster House does a brisk private event business as well.Kitchen--Webster HouseP1000804

The brunch menu ranges from fried chicken and waffles or biscuits and gravy to smoked salmon hash and a granola parfait. I ordered migas; a mountain of scrambled eggs and black bean puree, layered between crisp corn tortillas and topped with homemade salsa and cilantro crema.MIgas--Webster HouseSmoked Salmon Hash--Webster house

The roasted romaine poblano Caesar was inventive and lively. I always love grilled romaine, but this was elevated to another level by the kick from the poblano pepper.Roasted Romaine Poblano Caesar--Webster House

Chef Matt has spent time in the Southeast, so it’s not surprising to see some Southern specialities on the menu, including fried green tomatoes and shrimp and grits. The latter is served with Burgers Attic country ham, red eye vinaigrette, sautéed mushrooms, roasted red peppers and scallions, and, though rich, was easy to finish because of its manageable size.Shrimp & Grits--Webster House

If you love French toast, you’re hungry and you have a sweet tooth, you may find the Creme brulee French toast with Brioche, pears and spiced syrup to be calling your name. It was too sweet for me, but if  that’s your thing you’ll be in heaven.Creme Brulee French Toast

At lunch, there’s a fabulous almost- classic Reuben on the menu–thick slices of corned beef with just the right amount of cheese, slaw (not sauerkraut) and thousand island dressing– grilled to perfection. And the original Herbed Garden sandwich from the Crestwood Galleries has made a comeback.Reuben--Webster HouseHerbed Garden sandwich--Webster House

If you’re lucky, Sarah will wait on you. Like all of the servers, she’s very capable and knowledgeable about the menu. But she’s also very cheerful and upbeat, and who wouldn’t want to be around someone like that?

A word to the wise–if you plan on dining at Webster House before or after a performance next door, reserve well in advance. On the nights the PAC is full, so is the restaurant.

Webster House on Urbanspoon

Pig and Peay

Andy Peay was in town for the Nelson’s inaugural wine event, aptly called ShuttleCork. Peay, along with 5 other sought-after vintners, came from California to pour  fantastic wines and mingle with some of Kansas City’s most ardent wine enthusiasts during an evening that culminated in a wine auction.

Pig and Peay dinner--Michael Smith RestaurantBut before that, Peay teamed up with Michael Smith to participate in a wine dinner at Michael’s restaurant. The two have known each other for years so it seemed like a natural fit…and it was. Those of us in attendance were treated to a variety of Peay’s outstanding wines, paired with pig. Michael roasted a whole pig and made an entire meal around it.

Here is the menu from the Pig and Peay ‘S’Wine dinner.

Hamachi Crudo & Lardo Crouton
2011 Cep Rosè, Russian River Valley   Hamachi and Crudo--MIchael Smith

Sea urchin guacamole
pancetta & potato chips
2010 Estate Chardonnay Sea Urchin, Plaintain and pancetta chips-Michael Smith

Whole Roasted Pig
steamed buns & garnishes
2010 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir & 2010 Pomarium Pinot NoirThe Pig--Michael Smith

Roasted Wild Boar
house cured guanciale spaetzle & house made boar soppressataPork with steamed buns and arepas--Michael Smith 2008 ‘La Bruma’ SyrahBoar and spaetzle---Michael Smith

Almond Milk Doughnut
chocolate glaze & bacon bits
The Roasterie CoffeeAlmond milk doughnuts--Michael Smith

My favorite course was the pork in steamed buns and arepas, with an Asian slaw. The pork was served family-style and those who like it hot could add a spicy chili-garlic sauce to the little sandwiches.

Michael and Nancy Smith host a winemaker dinner every month, and I’ve never been to one that wasn’t great fun. Outstanding wines and food, and if you get a group of your friends together to go with you, what more could you want?

Anton’s Taproom and Restaurant

Originally built as a grocery store, the building at 1610 Main now houses Anton’s Taproom and Restaurant. The name is a misnomer because the owner’s vision encompasses so much more. Upon entering the building for the first time I was greeted by a waiter who offered us a tour of the “grounds”. We visited a second floor art gallery, a basement aquaphonic tank for raising tilapia, an outdoor bar and garden, a butcher shop and, oh yeah, the dining room and bar.

The bar runs the length of the room with more than 65 beers on tap, 2 wines on tap and a whole array of bottles lining the wall.

Meats on the menu come from the butcher shop which offers seating for overflow from the dining room, or perhaps for those who want a somewhat quieter ambiance.

Protein dishes come unadorned. No sauce, no sides; just the meat, chicken or scallops. Steaks are ordered by the ounce, though there is an 8 ounce minimum. There’s a choice of grass or grain fed beef, and dry aged in-house from 14 or 28 days.

I’m not much of a meat eater, but perusing the menu the short rib sandwich looked too mouth-watering to pass up. Piled high with meat, arugula, mushrooms and balsamic reduction on Texas toast style bread, I intended to only eat a half, but couldn’t resist finishing it. The French fries were better than they looked, but I always prefer a fry that still has the skins on and is a bit crisper than these were.

The pulled pork sandwich was very tasty and was slathered with a homemade BBQ sauce that could dance with the big boys in town.

We also ordered an arugula salad with apples and truffle vinaigrette that was fresh and crisp. Adding chicken confit made it a complete meal.

The only disappointment was the wedge salad, which was smaller than the oversized heads of lettuce I’m used to seeing at Capital Grille. That would have been fine had it not seemed small for the price as well.

We were very impressed by the very friendly and helpful staff. On our first visit, the bartender was more than happy to let us sample a variety of beers before settling on our favorite of the evening.

Anton’s is a hotspot of the moment, appealing to those wanting a full on meal or simply a drink in a “Cheers” kind of atmosphere.  As more menu items are added and the butcher shop opens, I suspect that will continue.

Anton's Taproom on Urbanspoon


Cellar Rat wine class

This was not my first rodeo. Shortly after Cellar Rat opened, a friend and I went to the wine store’s basic Wine Essentials class to learn about the five S’s of wine tasting–See, Swirl, Sniff, Sip and Savor. Having accomplished those feats, we decided it was time to take a more advanced course and, with our husbands, opted to learn about Old World v. New World wines.

Jeff was our guide–a teacher by day and wine guru/expert by night. He’s extremely passionate about wine and it shows in the depth of his knowledge and enthusiasm.

We tasted both whites and reds, 8 wines in all, and Jeff explained how to distinguish between Old World, or European (France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Spain, Portugal), and New World wines, those made in North America, South America, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia. The winemaking process is different, as is the flavor profile. Old world wines tend to be smoother and more subtle, relying on the terroir (the particular characteristics of the land and soil), while New World wines tend to be bolder, more reliant on the skill of the winemaker, and more ready-to-drink without the need for cellaring. Although these are generalizations, if you go to the wine class, Jeff will provide you with more specific characteristics of both Old and New World wines.

During the course of the evening, Jeff also offered suggestions for navigating a restaurant’s wine list, explaining which varietals to look for that are usually reasonably priced, as opposed to Napa Cabs that are typically marked up the most.

After the class, Jeff took those that were interested around the store to point out some good values on the Cellar Rat shelves. Rather than reveal his secrets, I’ll let you take the class and find out for yourself!

I highly recommend signing up for a class. It was fun and educational, and we sampled some really nice wines. It would be a fun date night, with just your sweetheart or another couple.

The Jacobson

The Jacobson, the Crossroad’s newest hip restaurant, shares space with Lulu’s Noodle shop. Both occupy the old A.D. Jacobson Heating and Plumbing Company building. It’s a very cool space with glazed cement block walls, a mix of high and low tables, secluded boothes and plenty of bar counter seating. Some of the cocktails come in flasks to the table, sitting in an ice bucket so diners can pour their own or share.

The menu is large, and diners can choose to go light with flatbreads and salads, or heavier with entrees, both day and night.

On my first visit I indulged in a rich and decadent Banh Mi with sliced pork belly, cilantro and carrots, and a spicy mayo. I loved every bite, but it’s definitely not an every day kind of sandwich. If it were sliced pork loin or pulled pork shoulder I could pretend it wasn’t too bad for me, but pork belly is by definition fatty.

The Ahi tuna salad may be a standard on many a menu these days, but this is a good one, with good quality rare tuna and a very pleasant miso vinaigrette dressing up the greens.

On another go around we started with a wild mushroom and ricotta flatbread. The flatbread was crisp, with plentiful toppings, but the dough could have benefited from perhaps a bit more salt (which I hardly ever recommend!).

I really enjoyed the unusual Crossroads salad. The crisp romaine is  tossed with bacon, corn, tomatoes, avocado and a creamy oregano dressing, and a soft poached egg sits on top.  Eggs on salads are big right now, with good reason. The oozing yolk mixes with the dressing to add complexity to the salad.

The J has Happy Hour every day. It would be fun to hit the patio on a beautiful autumn day and throw back a few. There’s a full bar with beer on tap outside, and a water and fire element on the patio. It can be noisy with all of the construction going down in the Crossroads, but that’s the price of progress, and that stops in the early evening.

Desserts are definitely worth ordering. If you’re into Dutch Babies (looks like a cross between a huge pancake and Yorkshire pudding), I saw a few of them  pass by and they looked like the real deal. Servers seem to be partial to the Fig Newton, an unusual twist on my childhood fig newton sandwich: squares of bread pudding serve as the sandwich to the fig perserve filling and are drizzled with chocolate sauce. In a cute riff on cookies and milk, the dessert comes with a shot of Shatto banana milk. Adorable lookng, but since I’m not a bread pudding lover, I don’t think I’d get it again. The Brown Sugar cake on the other hand, with peanut butter ice cream and caramel sauce was a winner.

Chef John Smith has some impressive credentials, having worked with some of the great chefs in Chicago, New York and Paris. Based on his resume, I’m looking forward to trying out the dinner menu, which is more extensive and emphasizes fish, chicken and meat entrees.

It’s fun to go to the Crossroads these days. The ability to experience high quality fare from independent restaurateurs seems to be increasing at an exciting pace.

The Jacobson on Urbanspoon

Cafe Gratitude

Cafe Gratitude is the new vegetarian/vegan restaurant on the block, occupying the space on Southwest Blvd that Lulu’s Noodle Shop vacated when it moved around the corner. There are several Cafe Gratitude eateries in California, but this is the first one to open not in the Golden state. It took local owners Natalie and Mike George several years to convince the California owners that Kansas City could support this type of restaurant, but their perseverance has already paid off.  The restaurant has been packed since it opened.

Each dish has a name that’s affirming, so even if the food doesn’t make you feel virtuous,  the labels will.

But the food is healthful…and quite good. It’s not inexpensive fare; the stuff that’s good for you usually isn’t, but the portions are substantial and filling.

We started with the I AM HONORING nachos, made with spicy sunflower “bean “pâté, guacamole, salsa fresca, nacho cheese and homemade crackers. Instead of the typical horizontal layering, these crackers sit upright and diners make their own nachos, combining ingredients as desired.

For our main dishes, we shared the I AM WHOLE, a bowl of sea vegetables, kale, carrots, house-made kim chee and sprouts, with a choice of quinoa or local brown rice with tahini-garlic sauce and teriyaki almonds. We chose quinoa for this dish and brown rice for the I AM HUMBLE –Indian curried lentils over brown rice or quinoa, with sautéed spinach and roasted potatoes, drizzled with a spicy mint chutney.

We enjoyed them both. They were fresh and flavorful and the ingredients complemented each other well.

On another visit I tried the  I AM PURE, Ginger-tahini kale salad with avocado, sea palm, cucumber, carrots, cilantro, basil and green onions, topped with sunflower sprouts & teriyaki almonds,  and the I AM MAGICAL, a homemade veggie burger on sprouted wheat bun with lettuce, tomato, pickles, onion and spicy cashew mustard sauce. I thought the kale salad was light and flavorful, and though I enjoyed the veggie burger, it was not my favorite in town by a long shot.

Other appealing options include the  I AM TRANSFORMED , two seasonal corn tacos with brown rice, black beans, guacamole, salsa fresca and cashew nacho cheese, and I AM FORTIFIED: Sautéed seasonal vegetables & kale, brown rice or quinoa, topped with a choice of sesame ginger, garlic-tahini, or Thai almond sauce.

They also have a “Community Bowl”, explained on the menu as follows: “Our community supported grain bowl–Shredded kale with quinoa and black beans and garlic-tahini sauce.Payment is by donation. No one is turned away. Suggested value is $ 7. Feed yourself and someone in need $ 14. ”

I love that. That alone makes the restaurant worth trying. The fact that the food is good is a bonus.

Cafe Gratitude on Urbanspoon

Extra Virgin Wine Dinner

I recently had the pleasure of attending a wine dinner at Extra Virgin, featuring wines from Maison Bleue Winery in Prosser, Washington. Maison Bleue was started by Jon Martinez, a former Kansas Citian. He used to practice dentistry, but got the winemaking bug while working with Michael Amigoni of Amigoni Vineyards.  In five short years his wines have received national acclaim and, after having the good fortune to taste them at Extra Virgin, I’m not at all surprised.

Michael Smith, chef/owner of Extra Virgin (as well as his eponymous and more upscale restaurant next door) did a masterful job of creating dishes to pair with each wine. Both Michael and Jon discussed the food and wine as we were presented each course.

Here was the menu.

Arugula Salad, spring strawberries & goat cheese  

Notre Vie Viognier 2010     

House made Tagliatelle Pasta

laughing brid shrimp, house cured chorizo,
spring peas & tarragon

Petite Joie Marsanne 2010  

Wood Fired Flatbread

grilled spring onions, romesco sauce, house made ricotta,

spanish olives & pistachios

La Famille Mourvedre Rosè 2011   

Fried Soft Shell Crab

potato puree crispy guanciale, micro greens

& aji Amarillo-chili paste

Jaja GSM 2010    

Braised Pork Cheeks

oregon morels & fava bean relish

La Montagnette Grenache 2010  

Chocolate Macaroon

strawberry powder, strawberry mousse

& dark chocolate sorbet

Liberte Syrah 2009   

I particularly loved the pasta course and the soft shell crab. The pasta was homemade, and the chorizo gave the oil that the pasta was tossed in a bit of a kick. The shrimp and peas were elegant in their simplicity. I’m a sucker for soft shell crab in any form, but  the varying textures and complementary flavors made this exceptional. Of the wines we tasted that night, the Rosé, which like Michael Amigoni’s is made from a Mourvedre grape and  JAJA, a blend of Grenache,  Shiraz and Mourvedre grapes were my favorite, though I had no trouble sipping all of them throughout the evening.

The cost of the dinner, count em–six courses, and all those wines, was $70 …hard to beat for sheer value. Add in a beautiful evening on the EV patio, a tableful of great people, and it was a memorable evening. 

You might want to get your hands on some of these wines now, before Martinez raises the prices….Cellar Rat at 1701 Baltimore carries many of them.

And do yourself another favor–sign up for one of Extra Virgin’s wine dinners.

Lulu’s Noodle Shop

Lulu’s Noodle Shop has been on the scene for years, but it recently moved around the corner from its old venue into a very cool retro space. It’s quite a bit larger than the original, which cuts down on  those pesky lunch lines, yet there are so many alcoves and nooks that it doesn’t feel cavernous.

After two visits, I’m still eager to return, though my food experience each time was mixed.

For the most part the menu is the same, though there’s now a “Street Food” section that is the focal point of Happy Hour. Crab cakes, egg rolls, crab rangoon, satay are among the offerings. We ordered corn cakes and vegetarian spring rolls.

When the corn cakes were placed before us, my first thought was that I had not thought to ask if  they would be fried, which they most definitely were. Though initially disappointed since I try to stay away from fried foods (except French fries, which I consider a completely separate food group), once I took a bite, I was a happy camper. Steaming hot, with chunks of corn in the filling, they were enhanced by the spicy sriracha aioli dipping sauce.

The Vietnamese spring rolls were fairly typical, but rather than a sweet red chili sauce, they were accompanied by a yellow tinged, coconut milk-based sauce that was billed as peanut sauce.

Of the entrees we sampled, the Khun Ma Pad Thai was superior. In fact, it has surpassed the Thai Place’s Pad Thai as my  favorite noodle dish of the moment (I know I need to try Hot Basil, which many people rave about).  Khun Ma Pad Thai is a bit sweeter, but we ordered it hot, and that provided a nice contrast.

Thai curry traditionally uses coconut milk  as a base in addition to curry paste and spices , but the red curry that we ordered at Lulu’s was too heavy on the coconut milk for all of us.

On another visit, we started with lettuce wraps. Not as good as PF Chang’s, but they were hefty and healthy.

I also ordered Drunken Noodles, one of my favorite selections at the original restaurant. This  time the sauce was not as rich or flavorful as I remembered, though it still had plenty of fresh vegetables tossed in with the wide rice noodles. I’m hoping it was an aberration–I’ll definitely try it again.

The menu at Lulu’s is large and has a number of interesting dishes that you don’t  find everywhere. I suspect it’s one of those places where you go a few times, find your favorites and then stick with them.

The cocktail list is extensive and will especially appeal to those who love infused drinks. We sampled a very tasty Bloody Mary with sriracha sauce instead of the usual tabasco.

If you carry out on a regular basis, consider buying one of Lulu’s new pinto pails. Designed primarily to cut down on waste, these steel boxes will also keep food hot up to an hour. Patrons pay a one time fee of $30, and then  receive each carry out order  in a clean and sanitized pinto. Here’s hoping that other Asian restaurants  that do a large carry out business will consider following suit. It’s an eco-friendly idea that deserves to be replicated, and owner Malisa Monyakula should be applauded for her efforts.

Lulu's Noodle Shop & Satay Bar on Urbanspoon


The Rieger Hotel Exchange and Grill

The Rieger opened late last month in the former 1924 Main building, and was likely the most anticipated new restaurant of 2010. It carries those high expectations into 2011 and, for the most part, manages to deliver.

Howard Hanna (formerly of 40 Sardines and Room 39) and Ryan Maybee (formerly of JP Wine Bar) have teamed up to create a restaurant that they believe serves “beautiful food for the people”, a mantra that is painted on a soffit in the kitchen, where Howard can see it each time a plate goes to the table.

I have now been once for dinner and once for lunch. Both visits were enjoyable, there were no missteps, and all of the dishes I sampled were pleasing if not thrilling. The downturn in the economy has made “comfort food”, fare that satisfies without breaking the bank, the buzzword of the restaurant scene.  While Chef Hanna’s cooking is certainly straightforward and far from fussy, there’s also a level of sophistication in it that shows an appreciation for each dish’s origin, whether it be Italy, France or the United States.

The pastas are house made, as are the sauces. Pappardelle Alla Bolognese features a  four-day beef, pork and veal ragu, and the Spaghetti Rossi is infused with red wine, and tossed with escarole and guanciale. The pappardelle is a dish made for meatlovers, but as a non-Italian, I would have preferred a bit more sauce. The one dish that didn’t work for me was the Swiss Chard Gnudi.  Typically a pasta-like dumpling without its pasta wrapper, Hanna’s version is a swiss chard puree formed into balls, sitting in a pool of brown butter. Though visually stunning in vibrant green, it lacked oomph.

The restaurant’s signature soup is The Rieger Pork soup, with pieces of pork,  Gruyère and garlic. As I was savoring it, my taste buds vacillated between recalling a pork chile verde I ate in Santa Fe  and Swiss fondue which, of course, is primarily melted Gruyère. Either way, the soup is a winner, and not as rich as it sounds.

The Cioppino, a seafood stew originating in San Francisco but a derivative of Italian cuisine, was competent but not particularly memorable. Though the fish and seafood were properly cooked,  the dish didn’t scream with flavor.

Grilled Poussin is not often found on menus, because, as Hanna points out, diners think of chicken as being rather pedestrian. This was anything but and I gnawed at the bones to savor it.  It was accompanied by caponata, typically a relish with eggplant, capers, peppers and olives.  This rendition was too heavy on the eggplant for my palate, but I enjoyed the Tuscan Fries, ordered as a side, which are a cross between a thick potato chip and a cottage fry, though puffier.

The dinner menu is compact, offering a couple of soups, four pastas, three salads, a half-dozen meat entrees and three seafood/fish dishes.  Clearly, this is the kind of menu that will change seasonally to take advantage of fresh and locally sourced ingredients,  a hallmark of Chef Hanna’s cooking, as it seems to be with all young chefs today.

The lunch menu offers some of the same dinner items with a slightly different spin, while also featuring a handful of sandwiches.

The Cubano is layered with house-cured ham, roast pork, mustard, swiss cheese and pickle, pressed together on a baguette. This type of sandwich is  all the rage right now around town, but not all are as good as this one. Though not overflowing with slices of meat and cheese, the pieces of crisp pork that dominated each bite set this apart, rather than thin slices of pork tenderloin that one often finds.

I also ordered garlic  potato chips, which reminded me of those at Union Square Cafe in New York City.  They are homemade and each bite tastes of garlic. Knowing that Chef Hanna had worked at Union Square Cafe some years ago, I asked him if they were his model.  He explained that The Rieger’s are slightly spicier, but they are definitely of the same mold. I can attest that they are certainly as addictive.

It’s not all about the food. With expert mixologist Ryan Maybee as one of the co-owners, a focus on cocktails and spirits was inevitable. My husband had the best Bloody Mary of his life, a Smoky Mary, which Ryan recommends trying with tequila rather than the usual vodka. The cocktail list in the restaurant is different from the drinks that are mixed downstairs in Manifesto, but equally impressive. Manifesto is the speakeasy that closed temporarily when 1924 Main did, but is now back in full swing.  With only 48 seats available, those wanting a drink are advised to call or text 816.536.1325 for a reservation. Taking a look around, I was surprised and happy to see that patrons’ ages ranged from their mid-twenties to sixties.  I had been under the mistaken impression that this was just for the young, not the young at heart.

You can expect service and hospitality to be top of mind with these restaurateurs, given their devotion to Danny Meyer, who is widely considered to be the king of restaurant hospitality. Meyer is the author of Setting the Table, a primer on hospitality that many have adopted as the industry’s bible, as well as owner of a wildly successful group of restaurants in the Big Apple. Hanna and Maybee have undoubtedly learned a thing or two from their mentor and it shows.

My first impression is a positive one. If the owners are striving to create a place where patrons can stop in to relish a drink and nibbles or to experience solid, satisfying fare without breaking the bank, they’ve already achieved that. Nor is it highbrow. The ambiance is warmer than when it was 1924 Main, the menu appeals to a broad range of tastes, and the staff is friendly and welcoming. It certainly adds some panache to Kansas City’s dining scene and I will be happy to return.  All good, right? But I was hoping to be blown away by what I ate, and I wasn’t. Perhaps my expectations were too high considering Howard’s pedigree and my past experience enjoying his cooking, but as the kitchen develops an identity, I’m hoping a touch more excitement is part of its DNA.

The Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange on Urbanspoon